Removing the staples: Cleaning the house, naturally

Health & Beauty

Note: This is the third installment of a three-part series on alternative uses for common kitchen staples

When it comes to doing chores, deep cleaning the bathroom and kitchen are arguably two of the worst tasks. Scrubbing the tub and sinks, wiping off greasy counters and cleaning the floors aren’t only a physical headache — they give you a literal headache. The culprit? Most likely your commercial household cleaners.

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“Natural” cleaners, such as J.R. Watkins’ line of products, are often looked at as better than commercial cleaners, such as Clorox and Windex. However, this is not always the case

Whether they are used for glass, floors, bathroom appliances or any purposes, an overwhelming majority of commercial cleaners contain toxic substances like phenol, formaldehyde, phosphates, ammonia, chlorine bleach, arsenic, naphthalene, hydrochloric acid, paradichlorbenzene, lye, phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid. When breathed in, they can irritate the entire respiratory system, making you dizzy and nauseated. According to the Organic Consumers Foundation, in 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, accounting for 206,636 calls.

People who realize these side effects and dangers often pitch their toxic commercial cleaners to replace them with “natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly” cleaners, such as Method’s line of products. Although this may give the buyer a peace of mind, the labels don’t necessarily equate to safer products. In fact, the foundation said that while “organic” in the grocery store refers to foods grown without synthetic pesticides, in chemistry, it refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including volatile organic compounds that release harmful fumes and may cause brain damage or cancer.

So, if common household cleaners such as Windex and Clorox are out of the mix, and organic, all-natural products are deceptive marketing ploys, what are some safe, acceptable cleaning alternatives? According to Sarah Aguirre, they can be found right in your kitchen cabinet.

While it’s initially as potent as bleach, vinegar “cleans much like an all-purpose cleaner,” Aguirre wrote, adding that a solution of equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle is a great natural cleaning product, cleanser and deodorizer for most areas of the home. Some rooms she suggested were the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room, where adding ½ cup of vinegar to a rinse cycle in the place of store-bought fabric softener “has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively.”

Not shockingly enough, lemons are also present on Aguirre’s list, and they have a multitude of uses.

“Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits,” Aguirre wrote. “Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. …One of my favorite uses for the fruit is to put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen.”

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When life gives you lemons, use them to clean your bathroom, kitchen and garbage disposal

Aguirre suggested mixing lemon juice with vinegar or baking soda to make cleaning pastes, and cutting a lemon in half and sprinkling baking soda on the cut section to scrub dishes, surfaces and stains. She did caution, however, that lemon also acts as natural bleach, so she advised to test it out on hidden areas before using it.

The last item on Aguirre’s list is a no-brainer, especially when it comes to refrigerator and freezer odor-repellent: baking soda.

“Baking soda is actually one of the most versatile cleaners on the planet,” Aguirre wrote. “Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial non-abrasive cleansers. I’ve used it in trashcans, laundry, and even my sons’ super-smelly sneakers. Baking soda makes a great addition in the laundry room, as well.”

In addition, Aguirre listed ketchup, coffee grounds and rice as other cost-effective ways to clean the house naturally. So, save the baked goods; clean your house with your ingredients, instead.

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Removing the staples: Taking a crack at eggless cooking

Food & Drink, Health & Beauty, Healthy Recipes

Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series on alternative uses for common kitchen staples

Being a vegetarian for the last two years, the number of times I have been asked if I only eat salad is, quite frankly, unbelievable. (More unbelievable is that my mother continues to ask me that question to this day.) There are myriad ways to take a carnivorous meal and turn it into veg-friendly fare — fall-off-the-bone ribs being the only exception, unfortunately — and I’ve had quite a time figuring it all out.

This tofu-driven journey was amplified when I opted into going vegan for three months, thus eliminating my most-coveted protein: eggs.

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Brown eggs are great by themselves, but adding salt, pepper and fresh dill makes them even better.

Why was I bound under a personal oath to give up eggs? Because, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, “do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say the term “literally” is thrown around all too loosely these days, but when I say I literally eat eggs with nearly every meal, I mean it. So giving them up for three months was quite a task, especially when it came to baking.

Thankfully, by this point in my vegetarianism, I knew how to experiment with different foods and spices in order to mimic that of non-plant-based dishes, so figuring out how to get around eggs while cooking and baking wasn’t necessarily the most difficult thing in the world. In fact, it was quite interesting.

Below are four different ways I’ve learned how to substitute eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in desserts. And though it’s been a while since I’ve kicked veganism, I continue to resort to these tricks even when I do have eggs in the refrigerator, because they’re that good.

1. Applesauce: This is easily my most favorite egg replacement, because not only does it give whatever you’re making the most delicious hint of apple, but it also doubles as an oil substitute when baking. I highly suggest using applesauce only for baking breads, cookies or cakes, or making pancakes and waffles, unless you’re into your savory dishes marrying with an unfamiliar taste. (¼ cup applesauce = 1 egg)

2. Flaxseeds: The most interesting of them all, flaxseeds never seize to amaze me in the way they cook. The texture from beginning to end changes tenfold, with the seeds turning into that of an egg white after simmering for a little less than five minutes. Flaxseed eggs are recommended for any eggless baking, but pizza crusts are where I’ve used them most often. (1 tbsp. ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal + 3 tbsp. water = 1 egg)

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Flaxseed meal, left, in its pure form. After cooking it in water for five minutes, it turns into a paste, shown on the right.

3. Tofu: Who says you have to be a vegan to replace tofu for eggs in your breakfast scramble? I personally love doing so, and adding dashes of cumin, paprika, garlic salt, sea salt and ground pepper, and fresh dill makes it even better. Not only can tofu be used as a physical egg, but it also can be pureed and used in the same way as flaxseed eggs and applesauce. (¼ cup soft or silken tofu = 1 egg)

4. Bananas: Another one of my favorites, bananas are shockingly resilient when it comes to unconventional cooking and baking. Not only can they be used as an egg replacement in desserts and baked goods, but they can also be used to make vegan ice cream, smoothies, yogurt and sorbet. Just make sure, of course, that whatever you’re substituting bananas in pairs well with the other ingredients being used. (1 ripe banana = 1 egg)